AP Photo/Michael Conroy
Much has been said about the first loss, 28-24, suffered by Coach Kelly's men last weekend at the hands of (primarily) Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines.
Some people think the sky is falling. Others think it is just a blip on the radar and the Irish still have a legitimate shot at a BCS bowl game.
Here's the truth: neither of those presumptions are correct because, well, they're just presumptions. The Irish have a long road ahead of them if they want to even think about a BCS game. A bowl game is still in sight, just not necessarily one played in January.
Nobody knows for sure what the future will hold but there are a few insights that can be gleaned from the performance last weekend.
- Dayne Crist is, without a doubt, the leader of the offense and entire Irish team. It speaks volumes that in his first year as a starter he has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. Despite his hiatus in the first half after leading the Irish on a 71-yard scoring drive Crist rose to the occasion in the second as he led the comeback from 14 points down to within seconds of a win. He did so albeit with blurred vision. Sure, he made a few errant passes including the potential winner at the end of the game - a rocket thrown through the end zone into the stands - but without him in the second half the Irish would have lost by double digits.
- Notre Dame does not have a capable backup quarterback. Tommy Rees filled in immediately following Crist's absence and threw an INT on a late throw off of a flea flicker. Rees is a true freshman and clearly has a ways to go until he is comfortable firing passes into coverage, let alone putting enough zip on a late pass to sneak by the secondary. With Rees' confidence shaken Coach Kelly turned to Nate Montana, son of former Irish (and NFL) legend Joe Montana. Nate was able to navigate the remainder of the first half after Rees' mishap but proved equally ineffective. Coach Kelly agreed that the onus is on him to better prepare his backups, but the bottom line is this team does not have a viable replacement if Dayne Crist is out of the lineup.
- Stopping Denard Robinson will be a problem for any team on the Wolverines' schedule. Perhaps this comment offers not enough criticism of an Irish defense that allowed 502 total yards by the Michigan QB (a school record) but make no mistake about it, Robinson poses a threat to any defensive scheme he encounters. His ability to outrun cornerbacks and, in all likelihood, his entire track team couples with adequate passing skills to cause headaches for opposing defensive coordinators.
Now that the fog has lifted from the disappointing loss last weekend here is a look ahead to what is in store for the Irish this weekend.
As the Irish prepare for Saturday night's matchup at Michigan State the Spartans and their defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi must be licking his chops.
If he saw any of the Irish performance from last weekend he would certainly instruct his players to be as aggressive as possible with Crist. Without the Crist the Irish really stand no chance against any of their remaining BCS conference opponents nor even a couple non-BCS conference foes like Navy and Utah.
Game plans for the Irish this week will include providing sufficient protection for their fragile signal-caller and optimizing the run game. Don't expect to see Crist dropping back in the pocket or tucking the ball and taking off down the field too often. While Coach Kelly insists that the quarterback read option play is crucial to his offense it is safe to assume that play will be stowed away for a select few situations from this point forward.
The Spartans always seem to play the Irish tough and not only is this a rivalry game it is also a night game, which means tensions will be high amongst a hostile crowd.
Even though the Irish have won 15 of the last 19 meetings in East Lansing the Spartans will create too much chaos in the Irish backfield for Crist to remain effective and, potentially, healthy.
Spartans get the edge in this one as Kelly will have some explaining to do. A loss would not put him on the hot seat but it would implicate the restoration period will take longer than his proclaimed "five-minute plan."